The correspondent, who travelled with other journalists to the camp at Lake Tharthar, 200km north of Baghdad, said he saw 30 to 40 fighters there on Wednesday.

 

The remains of three burnt vehicles were seen on a dusty road leading to the camp in the village of Ain al-Hilwa. A few mud huts were partly destroyed and a few big craters gouged the ground.

 

One of the fighters, who called himself Muhammad Amir and claimed to belong to the Secret Islamic Army, said they had never left the base.

 

He denied that scores of his fighters had been killed and said only 11 of his comrades perished in airstrikes on the site.

 

Fled by boat

 

Iraqi commanders said 85 suspected anti-US fighters were killed in an assault by Iraqi troops and US aircraft on the camp Tuesday, adding that no one was captured and others had fled by boat.

Iraqi fighters routinely target
US convoys and foot patrols

 

Asked about the presence of rebels at the camp late Wednesday, a member of the Iraqi police commandos that took part in the operation said Iraqi and US troops withdrew from the area at about 6.30pm (1530 GMT) on Tuesday.

 

"The commandos killed 35 and US air raids killed 50. But no one was captured and many escaped by boat," General Adnan Thabit, a senior adviser to the Interior Ministry, earlier said by phone from Samarra.

 

"During the fight, 30 boats left."

  

A statement from the outgoing government, which confirmed the number of fighters killed, said one Algerian was captured.

 

Local hospitals said they had received no casualties from the battle.

 

US air support

 

A US military spokesman, Lieutenant-Colonel Richard Goldenberger, confirmed the operation and said Apache attack and Kiowa Warrior reconnaissance helicopters backed the commandos.

 

He said what started as an Iraqi mission quickly turned into a joint one after fighters opened fire on the some 240 members of the interior ministry's 1st Commando Battalion approaching the camp.

 

"More important than the number of insurgent casualties is the fact that we have disabled their capabilities and denied them a safe haven," he said.

 

Mosul attacks

 

Further north, a car bomb in Mosul hit a US military convoy, wounding two US and two Iraqi soldiers, the military said.

Civilians frequently get caught
in Iraq's daily gun battles

 

An 11-year-old girl was killed when a mortar round struck a school in Amariya, west of the capital, medical sources said. Another girl was wounded.

 

And five bodies, all shot in the head except for the corpse of a female university student who also had her mouth cut open with a knife, were found on farmland near Suwaira, 50km south of the capital, police Lieutenant-Colonel Khalil Ubaid said.

 

Video footage

 

Meanwhile, the Islamic Army in Iraq group released several videotapes depicting what the said were resistance attacks against US military and intelligence targets.

 

In the first video, a Russian-made Katyusha rocket is fired at the Rashid hotel in Baghdad, hitting the top floor. Audio accompanying the footage says the floor was frequented by US intelligence officers.

 

In another video, a US Humvee is struck by an improvised explosive device (IED) and destroyed.